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Old 07-26-2010, 11:02 AM
 
Location: Brooklyn, NY
16 posts, read 39,526 times
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Hi all,

I am planning a backpacking trip to Guatemala in the end of August and was wondering if anyone who has been there could give me some tips, suggestion, recommendations or just share some experiences.

Thanks
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Old 07-26-2010, 11:27 AM
 
Location: Victoria TX
42,663 posts, read 74,433,941 times
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Even in the early 80s, there were some troubling incidents there, and things have certainly not gotten any better. I presume you'll be sticking pretty much to the well-known places like Antigua, Atitlan, Peten, so there will be a lot of other Gringoes around to ask about current conditions. I haven't been there in 25 years, but recently, hardened travelers in Mexico have told me that gangs have pretty much taken over most of Central America, and you'd be at their mercy, with no government or police presence to fall back on. Nevertheless, incidents have been few and far between, so the risk should be pretty low for an adventurous sort who is prepared to use appropriate caution. As everywhere in the third world, ordinary citizens will be helpful and protective in time of need.

One of the biggest dangers is kidnapping, so I would make sure I did not have any papers on me that would identify any friends or family back home. Memorize their addresses, and throw away their letters after reading. There have been cases where foreigners have been kidnapped, and they contact your sister back home and demand ransom. How often this has happened, I have no idea, but it would be a simple and worthwhile precaution to take.

Nobody down there speaks English, so if you don't have some basic Spanish already, I would strongly recommend spending your first week in Antigua, taking 2-4 hours a day of one-on-one Spanish instruction and living with a local family, which shouldn't cost you any more than about $200 a week. No advance booking required, just ask some other foreigners in town to recommend a school, which will set you up with a family.

Last edited by jtur88; 07-26-2010 at 11:44 AM..
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Old 07-26-2010, 12:50 PM
 
Location: on an island
13,382 posts, read 40,965,108 times
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We were there in August 1998 and had a really good time.
Our trip was organized around a soccer tournament so we were hosted by Guatemalan families there. We definitely did hear first-hand about kidnapping, and we wondered if we witnessed a pay-off for our bus to continue down a road--I'm not sure, it might have been nothing. We did see petty crime in Guatemala City. Keep your belongings safe and be aware of your surroundings.
Wherever we went, the people we personally met were wonderful.
Atitlan, Antigua were beautiful, Tikal was breathtaking.
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Old 07-26-2010, 01:43 PM
 
Location: Brooklyn, NY
16 posts, read 39,526 times
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I heard about all the dangers and I am aware of them, but I’m trying my best not to have them stop me from going. I will only be there for 10 days, so learning Spanish isn’t on the agenda. I will get a small pocket dictionary and hope it will do.

Tikal, Antigua, Atitlan are indeed where I will be headed. Trekking and hiking will be my main activity. I am not planning to pre-book anything; will I be ok with arriving and booking accommodations and tours on the spot?
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Old 07-26-2010, 02:34 PM
 
Location: Victoria TX
42,663 posts, read 74,433,941 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pinhas View Post
I heard about all the dangers and I am aware of them, but I’m trying my best not to have them stop me from going. I will only be there for 10 days, so learning Spanish isn’t on the agenda. I will get a small pocket dictionary and hope it will do.

Tikal, Antigua, Atitlan are indeed where I will be headed. Trekking and hiking will be my main activity. I am not planning to pre-book anything; will I be ok with arriving and booking accommodations and tours on the spot?
You can always find something on the spot. It's better to get there and ask around, you'll find people who have used the various tours and can recommend their features. If you're with tour groups and staying in the towns, you probably have very little to worry about.

Anywhere in Latin America, you're more likely to be killed in a bus plunge than by evildoers.
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Old 07-26-2010, 02:35 PM
 
Location: San Diego
5,027 posts, read 13,442,486 times
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It is not as dangerous as the pp makes it out to be. Detroit is more dangerous than Guatemala! I know someone that considered it for a future trip, so I asked my friend (who is from there and goes back every year) for some recs. He said it's definitely not a beach destination and if you're looking for beautiful beaches, Honduras is a better bet. That said, if you want to immerse yourself in local culture, it's a very safe place to be. Lots of outdoor activities, beautiful scenery and great people. Aside from Belize and Costa Rica, Guatemala is growing in their tourism department. If you go on TripAdvisor, there is a forum dedicated to just Guatemala. You'll probably be able to get recs tailored to your specific needs there. Have a fun trip!
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Old 07-26-2010, 03:01 PM
 
Location: Viña del Mar, Chile
16,410 posts, read 26,300,113 times
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You know, its always the people who don't speak Spanish that are the ones who get robbed and have things go wrong. In my opinion, you shouldn't mess with those countries unless you speak the language. I have a guy from El Salvador who cuts my hair, and he had to go back because of his dad, and he made sure not one person said he was coming back because he would be targeted by gangs because he's coming from USA.

I'm not saying the situation is the same, but you have to realize that if your spanish level is your typical " I took Spanish in high school and i think I can get by" you are just asking for trouble.

Walking around in public trying to read with a Spanish dictionary? Is that a joke? Now no offense, whether or not it is "safe" there is out of the question because if you have a dictionary out trying to read you are making yourself a walking target.
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Old 07-28-2010, 03:41 PM
 
61 posts, read 400,230 times
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I traveled in Nicaragua without speaking Spanish(I just know very basic words and phrases) and I never had any problems...ok it was frustrating at times but I never felt in any danger.

In fact, I feel like with just a few weeks of immersion in a home stay program, you could easily learn enough to get by.

learning spanish for english speakers can be done literally 5x faster than an Asian language IMO.
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Old 07-28-2010, 07:52 PM
 
Location: Tucson/Nogales
17,472 posts, read 21,320,617 times
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Bear in mind not everybody in Guatemala speaks Spanish. Some, even to this day, only speak Mayan. Same with Ecuador, some only speak Quecha, no Spanish.

I was in Guatemala a couple years ago, but I'm a dyed-in-the-wool, off-tourist-circuit traveler who'd never be found in Antigua, Panajachel or Tikal.
Yes, I've probably overlooked some Guatemalan treasures, but so be it, I just hate tourist-oriented cities.

I always ride the chicken buses in Central America, wouldn't do it any other way, and when pinched, in the backs of pick-ups.

Never had any problems in Guatemala, always felt safe, even shopping for pirated DVD's in the late-night markets in Guatemala City.

BTW, if you insist on going to Atitlan, and want to avoid touristy Panajachel,
stay in Solala, the cliff town you pass through before you descend to the Lake. It's one of the most Indian cities (25,000) in Guatemala, nice views of the Lake from up there, far cheaper lodgings. There's a nice hotel straight up a vertical street in back of the Cathedral downtown, with rooms for $6-8.
There's continuous bus service to and from the Lake, until late hours.

Myself, ironically, I find El Salvador, the least touristed country in Central, to
be safer than Guatemala. It has emerged as my top fav in Central.
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Old 07-29-2010, 06:56 AM
 
Location: on an island
13,382 posts, read 40,965,108 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tijlover View Post
I was in Guatemala a couple years ago, but I'm a dyed-in-the-wool, off-tourist-circuit traveler who'd never be found in Antigua, Panajachel or Tikal.
Yes, I've probably overlooked some Guatemalan treasures, but so be it, I just hate tourist-oriented cities.
I don't understand why you skipped Tikal. It's not a city.
It was one of the coolest places I've ever seen.
And it was a large area, it's not as if it was seething with tourists.
(At least, not in 1998.)
And Lake Atitlan was quiet, magnificent, and peaceful. The only other people there were indigenous women doing their laundry in the lake. Our "hotel" was a little hut in the jungle.
Again, this was 1998, but I can't believe the place was all that bad a couple years ago.
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